My First Darkness (Part 2): Purging through the Entheos

Dream of Life by Alice Popkorn (Creative Commons)

Dream of Life by Alice Popkorn (Creative Commons)

Through discovering the fascia of my insights – the lateral connectedness of various ideas over time – I have slowly begun to piece things together and in turn garner a deeper understanding on that which I already knew.

“In an intentional space, I have been using entheogens to open myself into a type of psychic vulnerability and point my awareness to where it hurts, allowing them to catalyze massive movements of latent fear (inadequacy, loneliness, anger, etc) through and out of my body via direct catharsis. This current means to practice the confidence of facing fear certainly holds a more mature tone, acts less like a surrogate, engages a direct knowledge of self, and thus seems to be healthier, but is it?” [from part 1, ‘Night Terrors, Junkies, and Gore Films’]

The concept of ‘purging’ in the entheogenic culture is based on the idea that deleterious behavioural patterns are sourced from a type of psychic sickness, a darkness in the person that can be exorcised through the entheogenic experience. The ‘purge’ is an emotional process that connects to the physical experiences of vomiting, sweating, shaking, crying and various other forms. These physical aspects allow the gross sensory experiences of the body to function as the connection between the implicit emotional information of the limbic system and an explicit process of psychological repatterning. The active and present ‘hurting’ in this context is the pain leaving the deep mind through the surface of one’s experience, the body, as it heals. In this context of purging, the hurting is the healing.

I believe this purge can even be a release for more than just ourselves. We can access pain and fear that exists beyond just the singular person and purge, through our individualized body, the Shadow of generations passed and the echoes of hurt left by brutal hands in the history of humankind.

Entheogenic shadow-work, for me, has been a means to make obtuse the emotions holding me down so that I can cathartically release them and gain perspective along the way, though I am not always great at it. As a personal example of this type of shadow-work, I was feeling sick, nausea, during a yopo ceremony not too long ago. My intention with this ceremony was to open myself in an altered state with the help of a guide (shaman) to push the defunct emotional patterns that inspired my currently active detrimental behaviours and mind states to a point of physical sickness and vomiting, thus allowing for that physical/limbic/psychic release. However, even knowing this, in that moment I didn’t want to feel sick, I resisted. I knew that if I were to vomit I’d feel better, and I wanted to vomit but also didn’t want to. It was a convoluted dynamic of desire to release and compulsive attachment to resistant control.

Deep in the yopo space, I was physically nauseous and emotionally uncomfortable, frustrated, and self-limiting in my experience. These were the very same feelings and internal dynamics I was seeking to release from my daily experience through the ceremony, they came up as requested through my established intentions but just cycled through me for a long time with what seemed like little to no progress. Again, I wanted this release, but was still very resistant to the purge (a pattern I observed in myself with Ayahuasca as well). I was encouraged to take more Yopo. Shortly following this second dose, I was then given some very powerful bodywork in my arm that unlocked a whole body fascial release and the purge came in screams of terror, pain and some serious vomiting.

I know this seems really intense and maybe even unhealthy, but here’s what’s interesting about all this. Immediately after I finished my purge, the people there got me water, a cool wet towel, and some maple syrup to drink (blood sugar regulation). I laid back, crying and finally began to feel released. Relaxing into my cries, they became tears of gratitude and I began to feel amazing, free and clear and confident, inspired with a genuine happiness I hadn’t seen in myself in a long time. Receiving more body work in my chest, neck, and shoulders, I continued to release into a sense of healing and opening. Through the creation of a sacred space that called out deep guttural fear and pain, I had earned an experience of release and confidence that continues with me even now a couple months later. So, was it unhealthy? As far as I can tell, regardless of whether or not the context was contrived to create that experience, the experience was still real and the changes it brought are palpable in a very (seemingly) authentic way.

Shadow Dancer by Magdelena Roeseler

Shadow Dancer by Magdelena Roeseler

This style of shadow-work and purging seems to be a common thread amongst more religious or serious entheogen use. It also seems to be a key element to creating long term changes in people, examples in the cultures around such entheogen use.

I hadn’t originally understood this, or had insight to even consider it when the concept of healthy purging naturally emerged into my psilocybin practice over the course of the last few years. Without realizing it, I had, within my early psilocybin experiments, (re)created an essential element to the supposed healing entheogens may offer, The Purge. However, I didn’t really know what I was doing nor did I have anyone to support or guide me, so my purge wasn’t always activated in the safest fashion. However, through these unsafe choices and some risky mistakes, I learned and integrated a much more responsible means of working with them.

My first book, Decomposing The Shadow, outlines these lessons, as well as how and why working with the mushroom can awaken powerfully transformative experiences when the darkness of it is embraced. What I have called The Purge in this essay, is called Surrender and Facing The Shadow in the book. Decomposing The Shadow outlines these ideas, but doesn’t go into much depth as to what those experiences actually looked like for me. In the follow up book, The True Light Of Darkness, (which I am crowdfunding now), I chose to open my psilocybin experiences up for people to read. It’s a deep investigation into the most disturbing and psychologically dangerous psilocybin experiences I have ever had.

As I was writing The True Light Of Darkness, I believed I was offering insight on navigating these types of experiences into beneficial transformations of one’s sense of self. This may still be true, but what I didn’t realise I was writing was also an expose into my ongoing journey with The Shadowed Self, and the unconscious ways I was setting myself up to purge with great intensity, even at the unnecessary risk of my own personal safety.

I realized this when the reviewers got back to me with their perspectives and some promo blurbs for the book. Specifically, James Fadiman, author of Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, sent me this as a part of his blurb: ‘At times, as he says, he makes his journeys as difficult as possible so I cannot recommend following in his footsteps. However I found his reports thoughtful and valuable in their own right.’ Along with a couple other reviewers, I was shown that I was offering more than just a follow-up to Decomposing The Shadow. I was offering some serious and dark experiences that enable not only a participation in those stories, but also perspective on what can happen when one uses unsafe context’s to generate the purge.

Putting myself in a dangerous entheogenic experience may be safer than an environment that gets me stabbed, but there is danger when one is unclear in how to establish a safe space for purging, as well as the double-edged power the purge can possess and the vital importance of Surrendering to its release.

Tying this essay to conclusion, there are questions I have been asking myself as I write this: ‘Is the shadow-work necessary? Or is this old patterns from childhood, that showed me how to feel strong, repeating themselves ad infinitum?’ From writing this, I realized the answer is yes and no.

Yes, this is necessary for me, it is also a process of empowerment I inherited from context, as a child. It is amazing how the reality of the child self evolves to manipulate and direct the manner in which we engage our lives now. More and more I discover that childhood beliefs in my behaviour that overpower me, leading me into conflict and danger that, once understood, become points of empowerment and release.

But no, it isn’t necessary every time and it is ok to allow transcendence beyond all the pain and open pleasure, play and creativity to stream into entheogenic experiences. We could, each of us, go deeper and deeper into the pain body, purging more and more, forever. Eventually however, we may discover, or even choose to create, a space where it’s ok to just enjoy ourselves. We’ve done ‘the work’ and it’s time to play. We can enjoy entheogens as a means to create happiness, love and beauty in our experience, and feed that into consciousness without needing to hurt first. However, the level of bliss one is able to authentically own will likely be in proportion to the genuine purging they have done throughout their life.

This is the end of this essay, and, somewhat contradictory to the normal flow of an essay, I don’t intend to conclude with a solidification of what you were supposed to learn from this. What you read here was me simply opening up so as to offer you a reality of experience that sparks its own insight. Whatever you got from reading this, which is likely beyond what I realised I was offering, is the conclusion of this essay.

James W. Jesso

James W. Jesso is a public speaker and author who pulls apart his psyche to weave stories out of the process. Deeply versed in the psychedelic experience, his work draws on the wisdom and insight distilled in facing the turbulent reality of his own darkness.

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